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What is the tea party? A primer

Tuesday night's Republican primaries reaffirmed the strength of the "tea party" movement. But what is the tea party? It's harder to define than it sounds.

The movement began in February of 2009 as a reaction against the bailout of Wall Street banks and President Obama's stimulus package. Many say CNBC's Rick Santelli helped spark the organized protests with a televised rant against against government spending, but conservative activists had already been organizing around the "tea party" idea online. Supporters say the first nationwide Tea Party protest took place on February 27, 2009, with small, coordinated events occurring in more than 40 cities. August. They were inspired by the Boston Tea Party, but many participants also used the word TEA as an acronym standing for "Taxed Enough Already."

The protests continued through the year. On April 15, 2009 (the income tax filing deadline), there were more than 750 protests across the country. Fox News personalities promoted the events in advance and then covered them extensively. FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group run by lobbyist and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, helped fund the protests. The Web site Tea Party Patriots encouraged supporters to be aggressive at Democrats' town hall meetings that summer.

Also that summer, the bus tour Tea Party Express (TPE) was launched, backed by longtime Republican operatives. The tour's sponsors were the Our Country Deserves Better PAC (formed in 2008 to oppose Obama), and Americans for Prosperity (launched by oil and manufacturing billionaire David Koch). Americans for Prosperity also provided tea party activists with lists of elected officials to target and helped them with strategy, online coordination and training.

There was some friction between TPE and Tea Party Patriots; the latter did not want to be considered a Republican-backed group. "As an organization, we do our best to be completely nonpartisan," said Mark Meckler, a national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots. "That's one of things that's allowed us to survive when we were called Republican tools. Tea Party Patriots are very dissatisfied with the Republican Party -- we have nothing against Our Country Deserves Better PAC, but they raise money for Republicans." However, Rolling Stone linked Tea Party Patriots to Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, which they also tied back to Republican campaigns against health-care reform under President Clinton.

On September 12, 2009, tea party groups from around the country converged on Washington for a massive protest. While counts were controversial, ABC News estimated the crowd size at 60,000 to 70,000. Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck had instigated the idea of a 9/12 rally back in March, with the launch of "the 912 Project." Tea Party Patriots was a co-sponsor.

A defining moment for the tea party was the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district on November 3, 2009. Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, aided by TPE and by Sarah Palin, knocked moderate Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava out of the race in October. (Hoffman went on to lose to Democrat Bill Owens, who got Scozzafava's endorsement.)

Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that has been supporting conservative candidates for the past decade, joined with the tea party to back Hoffman. They also endorsed hard-line conservative Sharron Angle in Nevada, helping her win the Republican Senate primary. Group members told The Post their goal was to capitalize on the movement, although their roots are decidedly elite.

In January, tea party activists helped Republican Scott Brown win a special election for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in traditionally blue Massachusetts. Tea Party Express spent about $350,000 in Massachusetts to help Brown win. (He has since angered some tea party activists by supporting President Obama's financial reform.)

On February 4, 2010, 600 tea party activists gathered in Nashville for the first Tea Party Convention, organized by the Web site Tea Party Nation. Palin was the keynote speaker.

Republican leaders began trying to use the party to rally opposition to health-care legislation and generate support for Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in particular has embraced the tea party. But some Republicans remain wary, worried that tea party candidates could prove hard to manage if they are elected.

In March of 2010, conservative lawmakers held a rally on the Capitol against the health-care bill. Tea party protesters were accused of spitting on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and using racist and homophobic slurs.

Partly in response to the negative coverage, tea party groups formed a federation in April 2010 to better organize and coordinate publicity. "It's an evolution," tea party activist Mark Skoda told the L.A. Times. "Not an organization. We're not co-opting a movement. We're not creating a new leadership structure."

In advance of another round of April 15 protests, some tea party organizers wrote a new "Contract from America," culled from online submissions with the help of Dick Armey.

Palin and the Tea Party Express had another major victory in August of 2010, when Joe Miller beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski to secure the Republican Senate nomination in Alaska.

The group put $600,000 into "Liberal Lisa" radio and television ads, which helped define Miller's opponent. And while Palin did not campaign for Miller, she and former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman recorded effective 11th-hour robocalls for him.

Delaware's primary on Tuesday split tea party groups, with some urging supporters to think about electability as well as conservative ideology. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said his organization decided to stay out of that primary because "we're not convinced that Christine O'Donnell can win." "We're not sure what she stands for," said David Keating, executive director of Club for Growth. And in New Hampshire, Palin endorsed former attorney general Kelly Ayotte, who on Tuesday beat out a tea party conservative to claim the GOP nomination in the Senate race.

A TPE spokesperson told Salon an e-mail list of more than 400,000 reliable conservative donors has helped them raise over $5 million this cycle.

But while the movement has had a number of high-profile wins, it also has lost plenty of races. Slate's David Weigel has a tally here, with an update from Tuesday's primaries here. And we have a map of the candidates Palin has endorsed here.

Weigel, who has been covering the tea party movement since its inception, wrote a "five myths" piece about the movement in August.

By Rachel Weiner  | September 15, 2010; 2:02 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election, 44 The Obama Presidency  
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Comments

WaPo you cannot write a sensible article on the Tea Party. You probably do not personally know one member of the Tea Party, so how can you define the members.

You show your ignorance by not understanding that the Tea Party is more traditional and conservative than the Republicans have become, especially the "Republicans In Name Only" or as we call them, RINOs.

To crown your arrogance, you quote David Weigel, a WaPo hack writer who got fired because he was supposed to be covering conservatives in America -- but was discovered writing emails which showed he hated conservatives, and WEIGEL WAS FIRED BY WaPo.

It is clear why your paper is losing circulation so fast, by publishing slanted, bigoted writing like this article.

See, you think your readers are so stupid, they won't grasp your prejudice, your mean-spirited bias by quoting a hater of conservatives in a piece about a conservative organization, the Tea Party.

I recommend you get your resume up to date. With its losing circulation record, WaPo will soon be up for sale like your sister pub, Newsweek -- which sold for $1.00. That's right, one dollar!

Maybe you can get a job for two years with the Obama henchmen. They don't care too much about truth and integrity either.

Posted by: RonKH | September 17, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Record number of Americans living in poverty

A man takes a break after eating in a soup kitchen

Record numbers in poverty: A man takes a break after eating at a Detroit soup kitchen (Reuters: Carlos Barria, file photo)

A new official report shows a record number of Americans are living in poverty.

There were 43.6 million Americans living in poverty last year, the highest number since the US Census began keeping records 51 years ago.

It means the nation's poverty rate was 14.3 per cent in 2009, Barrack Obama's first year in office.

The US sets the poverty level at almost $US22,000 a year for a family of four.

The number of people without health insurance also rose last year, sweeping past the 50 million mark for the first time.

Just under 51 million Americans had no health insurance in 2009, up from 46.3 million in 2008, according to the census report.

"This is the highest number of uninsured since 1987, the first year comparable health insurance data were collected," said David Johnson, head of the US Census Bureau's housing and household economic division.

Mr Johnson linked the spikes in both the number of poor and uninsured in the US to the dull economy and rising unemployment.

Median incomes held steady at just under $US50,000 a year, warding off an even sharper rise in the number of people living in poverty, which experts had predicted would reach 45 million.

Mr Obama seized on the glimmer of good news among the bad, saying the steps taken by his administration had helped millions of Americans to keep their heads above water in an ailing economy.

"Last year we saw the depths of the recession, including historic losses in employment not witnessed since the Great Depression," Mr Obama said.

"Today the Census Bureau released data that illustrates just how tough 2009 was. But the data released today also reminds us that a historic recession does not have to translate into historic increases in family economic insecurity.

"Because of the Recovery Act and many other programs providing tax relief and income support to a majority of working families - and especially those most in need - millions of Americans were kept out of poverty last year."

America " the third world of the West"!

Posted by: porpie9254 | September 16, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Record number of Americans living in poverty

A man takes a break after eating in a soup kitchen

Record numbers in poverty: A man takes a break after eating at a Detroit soup kitchen (Reuters: Carlos Barria, file photo)

A new official report shows a record number of Americans are living in poverty.

There were 43.6 million Americans living in poverty last year, the highest number since the US Census began keeping records 51 years ago.

It means the nation's poverty rate was 14.3 per cent in 2009, Barrack Obama's first year in office.

The US sets the poverty level at almost $US22,000 a year for a family of four.

The number of people without health insurance also rose last year, sweeping past the 50 million mark for the first time.

Just under 51 million Americans had no health insurance in 2009, up from 46.3 million in 2008, according to the census report.

"This is the highest number of uninsured since 1987, the first year comparable health insurance data were collected," said David Johnson, head of the US Census Bureau's housing and household economic division.

Mr Johnson linked the spikes in both the number of poor and uninsured in the US to the dull economy and rising unemployment.

Median incomes held steady at just under $US50,000 a year, warding off an even sharper rise in the number of people living in poverty, which experts had predicted would reach 45 million.

Mr Obama seized on the glimmer of good news among the bad, saying the steps taken by his administration had helped millions of Americans to keep their heads above water in an ailing economy.

"Last year we saw the depths of the recession, including historic losses in employment not witnessed since the Great Depression," Mr Obama said.

"Today the Census Bureau released data that illustrates just how tough 2009 was. But the data released today also reminds us that a historic recession does not have to translate into historic increases in family economic insecurity.

"Because of the Recovery Act and many other programs providing tax relief and income support to a majority of working families - and especially those most in need - millions of Americans were kept out of poverty last year."

America " the third world of the West"!

Posted by: porpie9254 | September 16, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Record number of Americans living in poverty

A man takes a break after eating in a soup kitchen

Record numbers in poverty: A man takes a break after eating at a Detroit soup kitchen (Reuters: Carlos Barria, file photo)

A new official report shows a record number of Americans are living in poverty.

There were 43.6 million Americans living in poverty last year, the highest number since the US Census began keeping records 51 years ago.

It means the nation's poverty rate was 14.3 per cent in 2009, Barrack Obama's first year in office.

The US sets the poverty level at almost $US22,000 a year for a family of four.

The number of people without health insurance also rose last year, sweeping past the 50 million mark for the first time.

Just under 51 million Americans had no health insurance in 2009, up from 46.3 million in 2008, according to the census report.

"This is the highest number of uninsured since 1987, the first year comparable health insurance data were collected," said David Johnson, head of the US Census Bureau's housing and household economic division.

Mr Johnson linked the spikes in both the number of poor and uninsured in the US to the dull economy and rising unemployment.

Median incomes held steady at just under $US50,000 a year, warding off an even sharper rise in the number of people living in poverty, which experts had predicted would reach 45 million.

Mr Obama seized on the glimmer of good news among the bad, saying the steps taken by his administration had helped millions of Americans to keep their heads above water in an ailing economy.

"Last year we saw the depths of the recession, including historic losses in employment not witnessed since the Great Depression," Mr Obama said.

"Today the Census Bureau released data that illustrates just how tough 2009 was. But the data released today also reminds us that a historic recession does not have to translate into historic increases in family economic insecurity.

"Because of the Recovery Act and many other programs providing tax relief and income support to a majority of working families - and especially those most in need - millions of Americans were kept out of poverty last year."

America " the third world of the West"!

Posted by: porpie9254 | September 16, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

The Tea Party is a corporate front. Tea party wants to dismantle government, then
who will be running things?--corporations!! Any congressman, any representative putting ideology over evidence is not good for the United States. If you have a PHILOSOPHY, you are open to evidence. If you have IDEOLOGY, everything is determined by dogma, and evidence is irrelevant. (DOGMA--means--authorative belief, doctrine related to beliefs and religion, or opinion considered to be truth) Tea partyers tell us they represent America the way it used to be, self-reliant, virtuous individuals, and small business. President Obama and other Democrats are NOT against these ideas. However, you cannot go back, people, the times and the country have changed. I have heard no detailed, practical plans from Tea Party or Republicans about taxes, 2 wars, social programs, economy, rebuilding infrasture, reducing U.S. medical costs, just platitudes, & vague statements. If you compare records, Obama is handling a lot of issues just like Bush did. Obama is not a crazy socialist!!! Obama is a good man!

Posted by: newsjunkie4ever | September 16, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

The Tea Party wants to restore our individual freedoms, lower taxes and reduce the size and scope of the bloated and ever expanding government.

Posted by: rteske | September 16, 2010 6:30 AM | Report abuse

The future of the "tea party" and the GOP is bleak. The beautiful thing about the "tea party" is that 95% of its numbers are elderly and will be dead soon. The "tea party" and the GOP represent only 3% of this country's population, those who make over $250,000 a year. The REAL future of this country is multicultural, under 25 years old and mostly brown. C'mon tea partiers, hurry up and die. Mark Montgomery boboberg@nyc.rr.com

Posted by: boboberg | September 16, 2010 2:56 AM | Report abuse

Obviously, a lot of things contributed to so many people turning against them so decisively but I think a big part was the fact the Democratic party basically called a huge number of people "racists" for so long, so consistently and for no good reason.

There are of course racists in this country but most Americans are not and people know themselves why they believe what they believe: people know if they question the nation's policy for rational and legitimate reason or out of racial bigotry. Calling the latter, and much larger group, "racists" on account of the former was probably one of the single dumbest things any political movement has done in recent history. I honestly don't know what the Democrats hoped to gain by simply insulting people like this. I guess they bought into their own "astro-turf" propaganda.

If people disagree with you about policy, you might lose them for a while but you might be able to win them back with reasoned persuasion. Once you call someone a name, especially a name like "racist", they'll likely never listen to you again. It's human nature to ignore rude people who would rather insult than listen.

The Democrats, in short, made it "personal" and simply insulted millions of the nation's most likely voters while completely and, in the case of public officials, arrogantly ignoring their concerns and the Democrats will pay for it in November and probably for some time to come, especially as so many of them seem incapable of knocking it off, even if only because of the now obvious damage they are doing their own cause.

I hope both parties will learn from this, quit being so extreme, partisan and, frequently, insulting in their rhetoric and bring a little civility and reason back to our public discourse.

Posted by: andrew23boyle | September 16, 2010 1:22 AM | Report abuse

“…And what would a Tea Party member do if actually elected? They won't endose(sic) spending money on anything…”
Posted by: kchses1
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Wrong-O, commie-breath reeking fellow traveler. They'd authorize spending where spending is authorized (hint: grab your Constitution and look up Article One, Section Eight…ah, that’s the Constitution, not rules for radicals nor the communist manifesto)
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
“…They won't endorse reforms…”
Posted by: kchses1
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Don’t tell me, let me guess, your definition of “reform” is stealing money from rich people and handing it, sans responsibilities, to ne'er-do-wells…that about it?

Posted by: sosueme1 | September 15, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

For nearly two years you stupid silly-socialists have harangued, vilified, attempted to marginalize and out-n-out lied about the Tea Party (although there was a brief moment when President Obama characterized the Tea Party as “people with concerns”…that lasted about 15 minutes). If you’d pull your head from your rectum and look around you’ll find it’s not working…we’re gaining strength, numbers and political influence and even have the entrenched RINO and neo-con republicans, as well as you dimwitted democrats, on the run.

Smart politicians would try to form an alliance with a political force of this size, scope and impact…but who ever claimed that democrats were smart, huh?

(and what the f@c& does downsizing government to its Constitutional limitations and embracing free-market capitalism have to do with murdering Jews?)

MORONS!

Posted by: sosueme1 | September 15, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

While I actually do see a similarity to the Brownshirts that 'you-know-who' mobilized 75 years ago, I am trying to take a more comical view of this negative and trully crass movement. How about we call them the Tea-Tard Movement..it fits really well and it will take them a while to realize it's not a compliment. And they can wear helmets so they don't hurt themselves when they goosestep...ooppps..I mean march.

Posted by: DriveDaLane | September 15, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

While I actually do see a similarity to the Brownshirts that 'you-know-who' mobilized 75 years ago, I am trying to take a more comical view of this negative and trully crass movement. How about we call them the Tea-Tard Movement..it fits really well and it will take them a while to realize it's not a compliment. And they can wear helmets so they don't hurt themselves when they goosestep...ooppps..I mean march.

Posted by: DriveDaLane | September 15, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

While I actually do see a similarity to the Brownshirts that 'you-know-who' mobilized 75 years ago, I am trying to take a more comical view of this negative and trully crass movement. How about we call them the Tea-Tard Movement..it fits really well and it will take them a while to realize it's not a compliment. And they can wear helmets so they don't hurt themselves when they goosestep...ooppps..I mean march.

Posted by: DriveDaLane | September 15, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

While I actually do see a similarity to the Brownshirts that 'you-know-who' mobilized 75 years ago, I am trying to take a more comical view of this negative and trully crass movement. How about we call them the Tea-Tard Movement..it fits really well and it will take them a while to realize it's not a compliment. And they can wear helmets so they don't hurt themselves when they goosestep...ooppps..I mean march.

Posted by: DriveDaLane | September 15, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

While I actually do see a similarity to the Brownshirts that 'you-know-who' mobilized 75 years ago, I am trying to take a more comical view of this negative and trully crass movement. How about we call them the Tea-Tard Movement..it fits really well and it will take them a while to realize it's not a compliment. And they can wear helmets so they don't hurt themselves when they goosestep...ooppps..I mean march.

Posted by: DriveDaLane | September 15, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

While I actually do see a similarity to the Brownshirts that 'you-know-who' mobilized 75 years ago, I am trying to take a more comical view of this negative and trully crass movement. How about we call them the Tea-Tard Movement..it fits really well and it will take them a while to realize it's not a compliment. And they can wear helets so they don't hurt themselves when they goosestep...ooppps..I mean march.

Posted by: DriveDaLane | September 15, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I don't blame your ignorance, Kchses -- considering you're educated by the likes of stories like this one. But to correct you, a Tea Party candidate would work to reduce the size of government, lower spending, and reduce government intrusion into our lives. Why not spend at least 30 seconds learning about something before you blindly attack?

Will 3 or 4 elected Tea Party candidates clean up Washington all by themselves? No...but their impact will be felt, and the mere fact they've shown themselves electable will lead to more candidates being elected.

Posted by: masher2 | September 15, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

And what would a Tea Party member do if actually elected? They won't endose spending money on anything. They won't endorse reforms. What exactly do they plan on doing? I'm guessing sitting around making snarky comments until a tax proposal comes around voting against it and then being unelected in the next election. Just a guess.

Posted by: kchses1 | September 15, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

What is the tea-party ?

Those members of the Republican Party racked by shame for the Bush years who instead of looking within for the problem - instead blame anyone but themselves.

"Who me ? No - I'm not a Republican... You see - I'm a Libertarian."

LOOK IN THE MIRROR - to find the problem.

Posted by: PulSamsara | September 15, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Nice hit piece, ms. Weiner. Whatever happened to journalistic ethics? The entire article manages to say nothing whatsoever about the platform, goals, or defining impetus of the Tea Party. It is, instead, a collection of links of sly innuendo, attempting to tie the movement to corporate funding, controlled by "elitist" agents and secret political "operatives". Anything for the cause, eh?

The reality is that the Tea Party is simply a group of people fed up with bloated, inefficient and, in many cases, downright harmful government. Like any large group, the members vary -- but all realize that current government spending levels are dangerous and unsustainable. The size of government has grown by a full one third in just 3 short years, and in the first 18 months of office, Obama has racked up more debt than every president before him combined...counting from Bush all the way back to the days of Washington. Worse, strong evidence exists that ill-founded "stimulus" policies are actually worsening the economic situation.

Democratic voters return a corrupt politician like Rangel to office? To you Ms Wiener, that's cause for celebration...while you spend your energy attacking Washington outsiders who actually have a real hope of making a difference. Take a long hard look in the mirror sometime.

Posted by: masher2 | September 15, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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